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How to gift entertainment in the age of the internet

how to gift digital media holiday gift guide
Quartz/Danny Jones
The times, they are a-changin’.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

This is part of our series on The gift of good TV. Stay tuned for our final story this week.

Once upon a time, TV shows and movies were some of the easiest gifts to give. Your friend just started watching Seinfeld? Get her the complete series on DVD. Dad is obsessed with Forrest Gump? Buy him the special collector’s edition on Blu-ray.

But that’s not the case anymore. We watch much of our entertainment on the internet, rendering most physical media a hassle instead of a luxury. Be honest—do you even own a device capable of playing DVDs? I, for one, still have unopened DVDs that were gifted to me. I’ve even taken a page from Seinfeld and tried to “re-gift” a movie to another unsuspecting friend. Unfortunately, he didn’t really want it either!

As amazing as digital technology has become in the last decade—and as easy as it’s made indulging our obsession with TV and film—it’s totally sucked the fun out of gifting, and being gifted, our favorite media during the holidays. Surely there’s a way to remedy that.

What follows is the complete guide to the 2017 alternative to entertainment gift-giving. These are all the ways to buy someone you love their favorite shows and films in a way they won’t be tempted to re-gift:

The Netflix subscription

Obvious right? Netflix is the most popular streaming service in the world, with more than 100 million global subscribers. Chances are, pretty much everyone you know is either already a subscriber or would like to be one.

The easiest way to gift someone Netflix is to get them a Netflix gift card, which are available in lots of retail stores and web sites all over the world. Amazon, for instance, allows you to buy one and email it to a loved one as a gift. Now that Netflix has raised its prices again, a full year’s worth of Netflix will cost about $130, so make sure you do the math before buying a gift card.

Gift cards are available for most other major streaming services, including HuluAmazon Prime (which includes access to Amazon’s streaming video service), and HBO Now. Wouldn’t it be a nice to say, “Hey, dude, I got your Hulu covered for the next year. Merry Christmas”?

If it’s someone you really trust, like a parent or child, there is another way: Give that person your credit card info and just have them bill their subscription(s) directly to you. But even if you can trust someone with that information, that sort of defeats the purpose of giving a gift. That’s kind of just like when Seinfeld gave Elaine “cash.” Here, do whatever you want with it.

The niche subscription

Okay, we’ve got the major streamers covered—Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and HBO (sorry CBS All Access, you’re not there yet, although it does offer a gift subscription like the others). But if your friend or loved one already has all of the above, or is more into specific kinds of entertainment that you might not be able to find on the popular services, then gift them a subscription to one of several niche streaming services:

  • Filmstruck (tons of classic films including the Criterion Collection)
  • Kanopy (“thoughtful,” educational entertainment—good for students)
  • Mubi (30 hand-picked and carefully curated rotating library of films)
  • Crackle (wide array of shows and films, has been called “Netflix lite”)
  • Tubi TV (similar to Crackle, and also has a section of movies literally called “Not on Netflix”)
  • Moviepass (replaces buying movie tickets at the theater, easily giftable)

Entertainment-adjacent memorabilia and accessories

We’ve already scoured the web to find the coolest and most unique items related to some of the most popular shows in the world. They range from the inexpensive (a coffee mug) to the exorbitant (an exact replica of Jon Snow’s sword in Game of Thrones). The internet may have ruined DVDs for most people, but it will never ruin getting to wave the heir to the Iron Throne’s sword around like a mad man. Or, you know, just hanging it up on your wall to show off to visitors.



Google Play

Both entertainment hubs have gift cards available online and in stores, via email or in real three-dimensions.

The specific movie or TV show

This one’s a little tricky. Say your significant other really wants to watch The Leftovers, but doesn’t want to pay for an entire HBO subscription to get it. You could get him or her the DVDs (we’ll get that to a second). Or you could find what internet services The Leftovers is available on, and then see if that service offers gift cards, gift subscriptions, or some other kind of gifting option. (If it doesn’t, you could always tell the person to buy it themselves, and then pull a Seinfeld and give the person money to pay for it, and just pretend like the whole thing was a thoughtful gift.)

Using your trusty pal Google, you’ll discover that you don’t need an HBO subscription to access all three seasons of The Leftovers. It’s available on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and Google Play for $1.99 per episode AND? on YouTube and Google, $2.99 everywhere else. Sadly, this trick does not work for Netflix originals, as the only platform on which you can (legally) watch those shows and movies is, indeed, Netflix.

DVDs still do exist…

…and some people still love them! There’s absolutely no shame in that. Netflix has millions of subscribers to its DVD mail service, mostly in rural areas with poor broadband internet penetration. But you don’t have to have bad internet to still appreciate a DVD. Some people who might not necessarily be hip to all the streaming services like, say, your parents or grandparents, might very much enjoy being given a piece of entertainment in its physical form, like in the olden days.

While most modern laptops don’t have built-in DVD or Blu-ray players, there are still plenty that do, and those that don’t can be equipped with an external DVD drive (Apple sells one for $80). Most gaming consoles can also play DVDs and Blu-rays.

The ultimate DVD gift is, of course, the DVD box set. There are lots and lots and lots and lots of lists on the internet to help you find the best ones out there. (Might I suggest the Lord of the Rings trilogy extended edition box set with the best and most comprehensive array of behind-the-scenes special features in cinema history? Seriously, it’s amazing and well worth the cost if you know someone who’s into LOTR, or just filmmaking in general.)

In closing

If none of these digital options work for you, then just buy them a book. Then again, you can also gift most books as e-books or audiobooks. So there’s really an internet option for everything.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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